Barry Bonds, baseball's home run king, was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice Thursday and could face prison instead of the Hall of Fame for telling a federal grand jury he did not knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs.
The indictment, culminating a four-year investigation into steroid use by elite athletes, charged Bonds with four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in prison.
Shortly after the indictment was handed up, Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, was ordered released after spending most of the past year in prison for refusing to testify against his longtime friend.
"During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances for Bonds and other athletes,'' the indictment said.
In August, when the 43-year-old Bonds passed Hank Aaron to become baseball's career home run leader, he flatly rejected any suggestion that this milestone was stained by steroids.
"This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period,'' Bonds said.
Bonds finished the year with 762 homers, seven more than Aaron, and is currently a free agent. In 2001, he set the season record with 73 home runs.
The Giants, the players' union and even the White House called it a sad day for baseball.
"This is a very sad day. For many years, Barry Bonds was an important member of our team and is one of the most talented baseball players of his era. These are serious charges. Now that the judicial process has begun, we look forward to this matter being resolved in a court of law," the Giants said.
Union head Donald Fehr said he was "saddened" to learn of the indictment, but cautioned that "every defendant, including Barry Bonds, is entitled to the presumption of innocence unless and until such time as he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "The president is very disappointed to hear this. As this case is now in the criminal justice system, we will refrain from any further specific comments about it. But clearly this is a sad day for baseball."
Commissioner Bud Selig withheld judgment, saying, "I take this indictment very seriously and will follow its progress closely."
Bush, who once owned the Texas Rangers, called Bonds to congratulate him in August when the Giants' outfielder broke the home run mark. "You've always been a great hitter and you broke a great record,'' Bush said at the time.
Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who is investigating drug use in baseball, declined comment. So did Hall of Fame vice president Jeff Idelson.
Bonds joins a parade of defendants tied to the BALCO investigation, including Anderson, who served three months in prison and three months of home detention after pleading guilty to steroid distribution and money laundering.
BALCO founder Victor Conte also served three months in prison after he pleaded guilty to steroids distribution. But Conte has long insisted that Bonds didn't get steroids from his lab.
Shaun Assael of ESPN The Magazine talked to Conte Thursday night and Conte said he may testify on Bonds' behalf that the sample the government claims Bonds tested positive for steroids is not what it seems. Conte claims it was inconclusive for many reasons.
Bonds was charged in the indictment with lying when he said he didn't knowingly take steroids given to him by Anderson. Bonds is also charged with lying that Anderson never injected him with steroids.
"Greg wouldn't do that,'' Bonds testified in December 2003 when asked if Anderson ever gave him any drugs that needed to be injected. "He knows I'm against that stuff.''
Prosecutors promised Bonds they wouldn't charge him with any drug-related counts if he testified truthfully. But according to the indictment, Bonds repeatedly denied taking any steroids or performance-enhancing drugs despite evidence to the contrary.
For instance, investigators seized a so-called "doping calendar'' labeled "BB'' during a raid of Anderson's house.
"He could know other BBs,'' Bonds replied when shown the calendar during his testimony.
Asked directly if Anderson supplied him with steroids, Bonds answered: "Not that I know of.'' Bonds even denied taking steroids when he was shown documents revealing a positive steroids test for a player named Barry B.
Bonds said at the end of the 2003 season, Anderson rubbed some cream on his arm that the trainer said would help him recover. Anderson also gave him something he called "flax seed oil,'' Bonds said.
Bonds then testified that prior to the 2003 season, he never took anything supplied by Anderson -- which the indictment alleges was a lie because the doping calendars seized from Anderson's house were dated 2001.
Bonds became the highest-profile figure caught up in the government investigation, launched in 2002, with the raid of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) -- the Burlingame-based supplements lab that was the center of a steroids distribution ring.
Bonds has long been shadowed by allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs. The son of former big league star Bobby Bonds, Barry broke into the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986 as a lithe, base-stealing outfielder.
By the late 1990s, he'd bulked up to more than 240 pounds -- his head, in particular, becoming noticeably bigger. His physical growth was accompanied by a remarkable power surge.
Speculation of his impending indictment had mounted for more than a year.